Food for Thought: The Role of Texture in the Disgust Response
Degree awarded: Ph.D. Psychology. American University
Disgust is a universally recognized basic emotion. Core disgust is defined by Rozin, Haidt, and McCauley (2008) as the revulsion at the thought of incorporation of an offensive object. They suggested that there are three features necessary to elicit a core disgust response: there must be a threat of ingesting the stimulus, the disgusting product must be related to animals, and finally, the disgusting product must have the power to contaminate an otherwise neutral product or food. The current study examined whether texturally aversive non-meat foods engender core disgust. In the stimulus selection portion of the study, 100 subjects listed foods they found disgusting and rated disgust for 27 specific foods. Eight non-animal stimuli were then chosen for the experiment. In the main experiment, 50 subjects were presented with the eight non-animal stimuli and asked how disgusting they found the foods, what about the foods were disgusting, and how willing they would be to eat the foods. Subjects were then asked to actually taste the stimuli. If a subject was unwilling to eat a particular stimulus, there was a test for contamination. The subject placed a small amount of the food on a small portion of the cracker and then removed the stimulus from the cracker. Subjects were asked to eat various portions of the cracker to determine whether contamination occurred.Finally, subjects filled out the Disgust-Sensitivity-Scale-Revised, a picky eating inventory, and the Obsessive-Compulsive inventory. Kauer (2002) suggested these measures might correlate with eating behaviors.Non-animal foods can elicit core disgust. Nearly 80% of subjects indicated that at least one of the foods was "very disgusting", 30% would not eat a part of the cracker that the disgusting stimulus had touched, and 10% would not eat a part of the cracker that the disgusting stimulus had not touched. Behavioral results were correlated with scores on the picky eating inventory. Subjects who scored high on the picky eating inventory exhibited more disgust-sensitive behaviors. Although what subjects stated they would eat and what they actually ate were correlated, that correlation was far from perfect. Future research on disgust should include behavioral assessments.
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